What do Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Arkansas all have in common? If you said "None of those teams are in the 2013 NCAA Men's Final Four," you wouldn't be wrong this year, though you also wouldn't be correct - at least within the boundaries of our topic for today.
If your answer was, "All four states have experienced massive oil spills within the last year - and three within the last two weeks," you'd be correct, unfortunately.
The latest disaster this weekend saw thousands of barrels of thick tar sands oil spewing from a ruptured Exxon Mobil pipeline into a residential neighborhood in central Arkansas. Twenty-two homes had to be evacuated, in a spill that literally saw oil running down residential streets and between houses. Take a look...
Of course, since it was a holiday weekend, smack-dab in the middle of Congress' latest two-week vacation, it was nearly impossible to find a politician of any kind with something serious to say about the latest disaster. That doesn't surprise us, since politicians of all kinds have been slipping and dancing around the issues of oil and environmental safety for far too many years now.
For all the work the Obama Administration has done on environmental issues --- like requiring much better fuel standards for cars and trucks, or clamping down on emissions --- the fact of the matter is, none of that will matter if President Obama and other politicians don't stop the Keystone XL pipeline route through Nebraska and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico.
No matter what the decision is on the Keystone pipeline, the most important liquid flowing through Nebraska over the next hundred years won't be oil --- something a task force in the Nebraska Legislature made very clear last week...
As reporter JoAnne Young noted, Nebraska state Sen. Tom Carlson, in a meeting of the Legislature's Natural Resources Committee last week, talked about what could happen if America ever runs out of affordable gas, coal, or oil. "We will survive," he said.
However, if Nebraskans ever lose access to our amazing surplus of clean, drinkable, useable water? "We will die," said Carlson.
For all the bluster already flooding the media from the oil companies about how many trucks they sent to Arkansas to suck up the tar sands sludge from the neighborhood, or how well the cleanup is going from the recent spill in Minnesota, the facts remain the same. No matter how much cleanup is done in either location, the raw, sludgy tar sands oil has now damaged both areas where the spills have occurred, in ways that neither area will fully recover from for many years to come.
No matter how many short-term temporary jobs the Keystone XL pipeline will generate, all it takes is one spill, once, in any area over the Ogallala Aquifer, and ALL the jobs in a county or a region could be lost, because the water may no longer be suitable for irrigating crops or slaking the thirst of Nebraska residents.
Just one spill could do exactly what state Sen. Carlson fears, and kill off a large area of Nebraska, Kansas, or anywhere else along the long path of the pipeline, as water is turned from a lifeline into worthless poison.
If you don't think the price is too high for that kind of oil --- oil Americans will never see, as it will be shipped to foreign ports and sold abroad --- ask yourself these questions:
If you lived in the neighborhood of an oil spill, how safe would you feel drinking the water from your well? How safe would you feel letting your kids play outside? What price would you pay to never have to see crude oil flooding the streets of your neighborhood?
These are kinds of questions our politicians from both parties are slipping on right now.
From our perspective, the right answers don't really seem that slick. Then again, we're not financed by oil company lobbyists.
Shawn "Smith" Peirce is a nationally syndicated radio producer, writer, editor, and journalist, currently working with Randi Rhodes. He also works with nationally syndicated political cartoonist Paul Fell on The Daily Felltoon. Follow him on Twitter: @_silversmith.